Grand Rapids Griffins 2014-15 Report Cards
Coach Blashill went out on a high note, taking his team to within two games of the Calder cup finals, despite the normal travails of losing top players to injury and recall. His legacy with Grand Rapids includes playing in 9 out of 12 possible playoff rounds in his three years and developing a score
| Grand Rapids Griffins 2014-15 Report Cards|
By Jason Kasiorek
July 14th, 2015
Coach Blashill went out on a high note, taking his team to within two games of the Calder cup finals, despite the normal travails of losing top players to injury and recall. His legacy with Grand Rapids includes playing in 9 out of 12 possible playoff rounds in his three years and developing a score of young players to the nHL. Both things should help him in his next role, as he becomes the first Griffins coach to graduate to the parent Detroit Red Wings. Strong performances by Teemu Pulkkinen, Landon Ferraro, Andreas Athanasiou, Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet gave a preview of the next wave ready for the NHL, while Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi served notice that the next wave has arrived.
The Rating Scale:
A - Excellence
B - Above Average - Exceeds Expectations
C - Average - Meets Expectations
D - Below Average
F - Fail
Alexey Marchenko A
For all intents and purposes, Marchenko graduated to the NHL in the second half of last season before being felled by an injury. In his time in Grand Rapids, he looked like an NHL'er, playing airtight defense, and showing off his good first pass. His skating and speed have improved immensely in the last year; he is faster, covers more range and is much more mobile on the backend. His return in the playoffs gave the team a boost and he had clearly elevated his game after experiencing the NHL. He is expected to make the Wings out of camp.
Brian Lashoff A
Took his NHL demotion in stride and was perhaps the team's best all-around defenseman in the second half. He had an immediate impact on the level of play of Jensen when they became partners. Willing to play physical, he also was great in his own end, and capable of moving the puck with authority. It is likely he is back in the NHL next season, maybe not with Detroit.
Scott Czarnowzcan A
Former Ferris State Bulldog started the season in the ECHL, but was a credible fill in at times and even pushed a couple of regulars to the press box for a stretch before losing out to the numbers game. He played much larger than his small size, and had a flair for moving the puck including a good first pass. Appears to have some offensive upside and is responsible in his own zone. Next season he should earn a full time spot in the AHL.
Jared Coreau A
After a one win season he turned a lot of heads with his stellar play in relief during the season. He was the organizations fifth string netminder and turned in a noteworthy turn as the Griffins starter, winning his first six start of the season. He earned an AHL player of the week nod with a seven game winning stretch later in the season, before yielding the starters job with McCollum's return from Detroit. If he can pick up where he left off last season, he should be able to push for the starters job and establish himself as the number three netminder in the organization.
Andy Miele A
A preseason injury cost him a chance to compete for a spot on the big league roster and slowed him at the start of the season. Once he warmed up, he didn't look back, scoring at a torrid pace all season. Even the loss of linemates Mitch Callahan and Teemu Pulkkinen didn't slow him down. Played much larger than his small stature and really relished the role of an agitator, taking a lot of punishment, especially during the playoffs. After drawing interest from several other teams, Andy re-signed with Detroit, hoping that he might get another kick at the NHL with Blashill moving to Detroit.
Tyler Bertuzzi A
Surprising rookie earned a spot on the top line and played with confidence and poise throughout the playoffs. Bertuzzi showed a surprising amount of skill for a player drafted as an agitator and physical presence. Turns pro next season and if his short postseason audition is any indication, he could be a difference maker. Good all-around player not afraid to bang and stick his nose into the high traffic areas.
Jeff Hoggan A
The captain was the conscience of this team and at times during the post-season, seemed to will the team to win, carrying them on his back and leading by example. He had a slow start to the season and was used sparingly then given more ice time and responsibility as the season progressed. The result was a fresher and more productive player down the stretch and into the playoffs. He can still turn the burners on and battle for position in front of the net, but his real value is in his work ethic and never say die attitude. He should help keep the leadership continuity under new coach Nelson.
Dylan Larkin A
Showed up at the 11th hour and showed he could score goals with the big boys. He was solid defensively and used his great speed effectively. It remains to be seen what he is capable of over the long AHL season (or whether he will stick in the NHL), but the brief audition looked impressive.
Teemu Pulkkinen A-
Pulkkinen was a shooting star scoring at an incredible pace and forced his way into the NHL lineup. He spent half the season in the Detroit and still finished as the AHL's leading goal scorer and then repeated that in the postseason with14 in 16 games. His defensive game still could use some work, and he will not endear himself to teammates at the next level with his penchant for cherry picking out near the blueline, but he has proven all he needs to at the AHL level.
Andreas Athanasiou A-
Athanasiou quickly became a crowd favorite with his end-to-end sojourns, highlighting his high-end speed and sick puck handling skills. A staple on a dangerous Griffins penalty kill, 'Double-A' sometimes seemed to have as many chances as the opponents powerplay. He was sidelined by a broken jaw but persevered through it for the second half of the season. A big game player, Athanasiou has forced his name into the conversation and could surprise many in camp this fall.
Mitch Callahan B+
Had a great start to the season, playing on the top line and putting up points at a career pace. As evidence of how far his game had improved, he was among the top ten in league scoring past the halfway point of the season. A serious knee injury derailed his hot start and left him on the sideline through the end of the post-season. Looking for a new contract, Callahan is likely to return and with a hot start, could benefit from Coach Blashill's promotion to Detroit.
Nathan Paetsch B+
Paetsch enjoyed his best season as a Griffin statistically, and continued to play a valuable role in mentoring the organizations young crop of defensemen. This season he was more involved in the offense, doing a great job of stepping up into the play when needed, but using his veteran savvy to make key defensive plays and break up odd man rushes. He really ramped up his play in the second half and into the playoffs where his great first pass set up scoring chances. At the end of his contract, could be retained to provide leadership and offensive skills.
Landon Ferraro B
Had a bounce back season scoring 27 goals and was one of the team's key players on the penalty kill. Meshed well with Porter and did a great job of using his speed and vision to form a dangerous counter-attack. His strong play earned him another audition in Detroit where he took advantage of the opportunity and stayed for the rest of the season. Ferraro will be I the mix competing for a 4th line job with the parent Wings at camp.
Xavier Ouellet B
After spending significant time in the NHL early in the season, Ouellet lost his spot to Marchenko and spent most of the second half in the AHL. He had an up and down season battling some consistency issues, and was sometimes guilty of trying to do too much and got burned. The unflappable blueliner is very good defensively and capable of carrying the puck and making plays. He upped the physical side of his game in the postseason, and was tough to play against. Could be in the running for a spot in the NHL out of camp, but Detroit's depth may lead to his return for another season.
Brennan Evans B
Evans had an off year due to injuries that caused him to miss time and not be as effective physically for a chunk of the season. It was clear in his absence that the team did not have someone capable of playing the same role and that a gritty, surly, grouchy Brennan Evans was a sandpaper element that was missed. A return to health towards the end of the season allowed him to play his game and he was an ace in the playoffs, rock solid in his own end, and a physical deterrent, punishing opposing players. The valuable veteran was also a great influence on the younger players and a leader on and off the ice. He is a free agent but could return to keep the on-ice leadership team intact.
Nick Jensen B
Smooth skating blueliner picked up his play in the second half, but really came into his own in the playoffs. He used his speed well to close gaps and protect the puck, and seemed to gain the confidence to jump up in the play more regularly in the latter stages. He shared the league lead in plus/minus at +30, bolstered down the backstretch, where he went +22 in the last half of the season. The postseason also brought a change to Jensen's game as he brought a physical edge to his play and really raised his compete level. He will likely return to the AHL for another season, but if he can maintain his level of play consistently, he is knocking on the door at the NHL.
Tom McCollum B
Tom maintained his high level of play for the Griffins this season, just missing his career high marks from last year. He was able to fill the void left by Mrazek's graduation and even got some vindication by notching his first NHL win. He was still guilty of letting in soft goals at the worst time, and turned in a stinker every so many games, but was much improved. He returns next season as the incumbent #1, but will be challenged by the emerging Coreau for playing time.
Mark Zengerle B
Zengerle started the season as an extra forward and worked his way up to 1st line right wing by the playoffs. A great passer with good hands and vision, he excelled finding Miele or Pulkkinen open around the net and threading a pass through traffic to them. Despite his small size, he showed a lot more grit as the year progressed, and was not afraid to take a hit to make a play. While he probably will move back down the lineup this season he should still be a contributor at both ends of the ice. He signed a one year extension with the Griffins with the hopes that another good season could lead to an opportunity in the NHL.
Kevin Porter B
Took a while to find his legs in Grand Rapids, but by the end of the season was a valuable player, especially on the PK. His speed, anticipation and determination made him a threat through the neutral zone every game. Porter picked off passes with a flourish and set up great scoring opportunities. Showed some great chemistry with his flashier teammates and brought a measure of grit and sandpaper. A victim of the youth movement, he has moved on to the Penguins minor league team for next season.
Louis-Marc Aubry B
Great defensive player really came on in the second half and playoffs. Teams were very frustrated trying to deal with his size, strength, speed and ability to work the cycle. While he may never develop the offensive skills to complement his soft hands and good vision, there are nights he looks like there is still more to come. At the end of his entry level contract, Aubry could return for another season, especially since he has not played enough games to count against the veteran cap.
Tomas Nosek B-
Nosek had an up and down season, but he played much better than his numbers indicated, and the team was not as good during his two long term absences from the lineup. He tied for the league lead at +30 and also was tied for 2nd with three shorthanded goals. Great hands, shifty moves, and an asset in the faceoff circle, the lanky forward could produce some jaw dropping plays in traffic. Nosek is under contract with the organization for another season and should return to Grand Rapids and attempt to add some consistency to his game.
Alden Hirschfeld C+
Hirschfeld provided depth at times throughout the season, but spent most of the year in Toledo. He made the most of his unexpected playing time in the postseason, scoring the series winner against the Marlies in the first round. He is a defensively responsible grinder with limited offensive upside but can fill in anywhere up front, which increases his usefulness. Could return next season in the same type of role, but again will likely spend most of his time in the ECHL.
Martin Frk C+
While much improved over last season, Frk just did not seem to be able to steal a regular spot in the lineup. He spent a lot of the season in the ECHL where he found his scoring touch and put up big numbers. During his stints in the AHL he showed more intensity and a higher compete level, and was much more willing to go to the scrums and win the board battles. This season is a big one for the talented winger, a new coach, some time in the weight room and a little consistency would go a long way.
Marek Tvrdon C
The hulking winger spent some time in the ECHL early in the year but earned a regular spot with his size in front of the net and soft hands. Tvrdon is able to make plays in traffic and isn't afraid to fight for position or the puck along the boards. He still needs to work on keeping his feet moving, but should be able to have an impact especially on the powerplay next season.
Zach Nastasiuk C
Before being felled by a concussion on a brutal hit in the playoffs, Nastasiuk had staked a claim as a regular in the lineup late in the season, following the conclusion of his Jr Career. The speedy forward played with an edge and paid the price to go to the high traffic areas. His responsible play, work ethic and grit earned him a look on special teams where he was not out of place. Next season will be his first as a pro, but his three zone game should allow him to make the adjustment until his scoring comes on-line.
Anthony Mantha C
A broken leg slowed him significantly, and he never really seemed to catch up to the pace of his teammates. Mantha did show off glimpses of the tools in his toolbox, especially his incredible hands and ability to make plays in traffic. Those gifts, combined with his size gave the opposition fits at times. Unfortunately it didn't happen frequently enough, and his intensity level appeared to have the flame too low. His season ebbed and flowed, with a low point being called out in the media as a disappointment by a team executive. Overcoming that adversity should make him a much stronger player next season. It is obvious he has the hands and intelligence to play the game at a high level. He needs to work on pace, compete level and keeping his feet moving to make the next step.
Chris Bruton C
A great team player, Bruton did not complain despite being a regular scratch the second half of the season and into the playoffs. When he played he gave 100% and provided grit and energy, but also spent too much time in the box by himself. An Unrestricted Free Agent, Bruton is unlikely to return to GR.
Colin Campbell D+
A disappointing season for Campbell who was unable to establish himself as a regular. He did not provide much offense, and had marginal results as a grinder and defensive presence. At times he seemed to do a good job of being an agitator, but consistency was elusive. With another year on his entry level contract he needs to stake out his spot in the lineup.
Ryan Sproul D
The big defenseman with the booming shot has all of the tools; he has just not been able to put them all together. He has a great shot when he uses it, but hasn't provided enough offense to overcome his defensive shortcomings. He seemed to regress as the year went on, becoming a frequent healthy scratch towards the end of the season and into the playoffs. One of the few players not to excel under Coach Blashill, Sproul's development has stalled and he appears to have lost a lot of his confidence and swagger. Coming into the last season of his entry level contract, Sproul will need to rebound in a big way.